President Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2024 after the United State House of Representatives and Senate voted to approve it. Secure Families Initiative greets this final bill with appreciation for items such as the 5.2% raise for service members, which will improve financial wellness for military families, and most significantly, we express relief that certain divisive provisions from previous versions of the bill did not ultimately become law.
One of our organization’s top focuses throughout this year’s NDAA process was on the Department of Defense (DoD)’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs. These programs have been used for years to ensure that the military successfully attracts, recruits, develops, and retains highly-skilled service members from different backgrounds to meet current and future mission requirements. And as military families, we’ve benefited firsthand from increased safety and support from these programs.
The 2024 NDAA preserved the existence of DEI programs. However, it also included two provisions that will hamper their positive impact:
- A salary cap on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Personnel. This provision will cap all DEI positions at the Department of Defense (DoD) at the GS-10 level (maximum income approximately $79,000). Currently, DEI positions go to the senior executive level, which has a salary cap of $212,000. Capping DEO position salaries will deter qualified professionals from seeking positions within DoD.
- Limitations on the establishment of new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion positions, including a hiring freeze. This provision will freeze future hiring for DEI positions while the Government Accountability Office reviews the DoD DEI workforce.
“DEI initiatives within the Department of Defense are not merely symbolic; they are essential for ensuring that our military reflects the strength derived from its diverse personnel and that every member – and their families, such as ours – feels valued and supported,” said Sarah Streyder, Secure Families Initiative Executive Director. “While we are relieved the final NDAA did not include provisions from the House version that would have eliminated DEI programs altogether, those attacks should have never happened in the first place, and it is crucial that we use this opportunity to make that clear.”
Congress has a record of supporting the military’s DEI initiatives in the past, and thereby promoting our military’s equity, cohesion, and force readiness. In 2020, Congress mandated that the DoD institute a Chief Diversity Officer, establish Senior Advisors for DEI in each service, and include diversity and inclusion data in the National Defense Strategy. DoD leadership has repeatedly emphasized the importance of efforts such as these. Earlier this year, the Under Secretary for Military Personnel and Readiness, Gilbert Cisneros, Jr., testified before Congress that DEI is a “force multiplier,” saying, “With the Department’s priority mission to provide a combat-credible Force, we must prioritize a force that is lethal, resilient, and reflective of America’s diversity.”
Attacking DEI initiatives demonstrates a deep misunderstanding of today’s military community, when 41% of active-duty service members belong to a minority group, and 17.3% active-duty service members are women. A 2021 survey of service members and their families showed that nearly a third of respondents, who identified as racial or ethnic minorities, stated discrimination concerns factored into their decision of whether to remain in the military. Further, the majority of minority service members have witnessed racism in the ranks. Including provisions in the NDAA that limit DEI efforts undermine DoD’s essential work of promoting the welfare of servicemembers and their families to ensure the success of an increasingly diverse force.
Unfortunately, we anticipate attacks on our military’s diversity to continue in this current political climate. We will be ready to meet that challenge.